Five Twitter @HackWeek predictions

Ronny Kerr · October 28, 2010 · Short URL:

Twitter engineers get weeklong hackathon to program whatever their hearts desire


Hack days and hackathons are day- or week-long events when programmers can focus entirely on realizing new and creative projects of their choosing. Facebook, Google and Yahoo are just a few of the high-profile companies to have hosted hackathons in the past. (Coincidentally, a feature rolling out to all Facebook users today grew out of one engineer’s hackathon work.)

After an intense couple years of just trying to keep the site operating smoothly, Twitter decided it was finally time to have their very own Hack Week. The Hack Week, which began on the day it was announced (last Friday) and runs through tomorrow, is a time for Twitter engineers to work in small teams on innovative projects for the site.

“Some may ship immediately,” says Twitter, “others may be added to the roadmap and built out in the future, and the remainder may serve as creative inspiration.”

While we probably shouldn’t expect anything as amazingly ambitious as a giant, wirelessly-controlled, beer-delivering robot, the Twitter API opens the door to a plethora of possibilities. Here are some guesses at what Twitter’s engineers will have come up with at the end of Hack Week:


A third-party site has already done it. Twitaholic lists users by most followers, most following, most updates, and join date. Twitter could easily bring in all these rankings in-house and bolster them with even more information. How about a map that displays high tweet activity in real-time when something big’s going on, like, say, a city winning game one of the World Series? Or even variations on Twitaholic’s list--like most tweets today, this month--could be interesting. This isn’t a contest, of course, but it would still be interesting to see!

RSS Feeds

Naysayers will say its redundant, some might say its step back in time, but the truth is that RSS feeds are still popular with users. Maybe a Twitter engineer whipped up a widget that accepts a feed URL and, with just one click, adds that feed to the user’s stream. It will be like “following” except it requires zero extra effort on behalf of the publisher.

Selective Privacy

Here’s a crazy idea. Give users with private profiles the option of making their tweets visible to select users. It might sound pointless, but here’s one real-world example of when it could be useful. User wants to have a private account for tweeting at friends here and there, but mostly for hearing about what’s going on in the world and in their hometown. Say they’re following a nearby store that announces a contest through Twitter: just retweet to win the grand prize! User will retweet to no avail because nobody can see their tweets except pre-approved users.

Download the Stream

Facebook recently gave users the option to download their profile--complete with photos, wall posts, everything--in a nice all-in-one ZIP package. If that’s possible, then it has to be pretty easy for Twitter to do the same. I could see myself printing my personal Twitter stream just for the sake of reminiscing or even printing someone else’s stream, like Stephen Colbert’s, because it's just that funny.

Revenue Model

I know, I know. It’s doesn’t seem likely that a small group of Twitter engineers could (much less, would) spend their hack week killing themselves over the monetization problem, the problem that’s haunted the site since day one. But then, it only took a few forward-thinking individuals to make Twitter in the first place. Promoted Products--accounts, trends and tweets paid for by advertisers--seem like they have the potential to make millions of dollars for the site, but that has yet to be proven definitely. Maybe some brilliant engineer will figure out how to convince users to shell out a few dollars here and there for virtual goods of the Twitter variety. Virtual followers? Fat chance.

Follow Twitter's official account @HackWeek to hear about their feats.

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What is Twitter?

Twitter is an online information network that allows anyone with an account to post 140 character messages, called tweets. It is free to sign up. Users then follow other accounts which they are interested in, and view the tweets of everyone they follow in their "timeline." Most Twitter accounts are public, where one does not need to approve a request to follow, or need to follow back. This makes Twitter a powerful "one to many" broadcast platform where individuals, companies or organizations can reach millions of followers with a single message. Twitter is accessible from, our mobile website, SMS, our mobile apps for iPhone, Android, Blackberry, our iPad application, or 3rd party clients built by outside developers using our API. Twitter accounts can also be private, where the owner must approve follower requests. 

Where did the idea for Twitter come from?

Twitter started as an internal project within the podcasting company Odeo. Jack Dorsey, and engineer, had long been interested in status updates. Jack developed the idea, along with Biz Stone, and the first prototype was built in two weeks in March 2006 and launched publicly in August of 2006. The service grew popular very quickly and it soon made sense for Twitter to move outside of Odea. In May 2007, Twitter Inc was founded.

How is Twitter built?

Our engineering team works with a web application framework called Ruby on Rails. We all work on Apple computers except for testing purposes. 

We built Twitter using Ruby on Rails because it allows us to work quickly and easily--our team likes to deploy features and changes multiple times per day. Rails provides skeleton code frameworks so we don't have to re-invent the wheel every time we want to add something simple like a sign in form or a picture upload feature.

How do you make money from Twitter?

There are a few ways that Twitter makes money. We have licensing deals in place with Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft's Bing to give them access to the "firehose" - a stream of tweets so that they can more easily incorporate those tweets into their search results.

In Summer 2010, we launched our Promoted Tweets product. Promoted Tweets are a special kind of tweet which appear at the top of search results within, if a company has bid on that keyword. Unlike search results in search engines, Promoted Tweets are normal tweets from a business, so they are as interactive as any other tweet - you can @reply, favorite or retweet a Promoted Tweet. 

At the same time, we launched Promoted Trends, where companies can place a trend (clearly marked Promoted) within Twitter's Trending Topics. These are especially effective for upcoming launches, like a movie or album release.

Lastly, we started a Twitter account called @earlybird where we partner with other companies to provide users with a special, short-term deal. For example, we partnered with Virgin America for a special day of fares on that were only accessible through the link in the @earlybird tweet.


What's next for Twitter?

We continue to focus on building a product that provides value for users. 

We're building Twitter, Inc into a successful, revenue-generating company that attracts world-class talent with an inspiring culture and attitude towards doing business.